What passes for daytime TV during my vacation is the broadband access to this summer’s political theater. I can’t recall being this riveted to the action since the summer of the Watergate hearings. Setting aside the sheer entertainment, I’m trying to gain a grasp of how these competing factions (whichever one wins) will impact the challenges of those of us still building nest eggs, or already spending them, in retirement.
With time hanging heavy on my hands, I also waded through the “Path to Prosperity” which is the House of Representatives budget proposal. As a follow-on to last week’s column describing the Federal Reserve as the “Only Game in Town” thanks to government and private sector dysfunction, I am curious as to what the political parties and their candidates view as the answer to a more financially-rewarding and less economically-divided society.
To start with something simple, both Ms. Clinton and Mr. Trump are talking about rebuilding infrastructure to create jobs locally, and this, of course, involves government spending. Where we find the money is where the paths divide. Ms. Clinton will raise taxes on the wealthy and borrow money at record low interest rates.
Mr. Trump, if I can guess, will also have to borrow money --- more for that matter --- because he is committed to reducing taxes even on the wealthy. Moreover, his past business experience has left him at ease with the process of borrowing in the billions.
But there may be an alternative to more borrowing if the theory outlined in the “Path to Prosperity” and Mr. Trump’s economic advisor turns out to be correct. Stephen Moore, of the Heritage Foundation, was interviewed by PBS NEWS HOUR by Judy Woodruff during which he pointed out that the private sector would spend more money and grow their businesses faster if they weren’t having to pay such high taxes.
Mr. Trump has now pledged to reduce corporate tax rates, but in his PBS interview, spokesman Mr. Moore went on to say that U.S. corporations were sitting on a record amount of cash --- over $2 trillion --- that they didn’t want to spend growing their companies “because they say taxes are too high.“ If taxes were only lower, job creators would presumably hire more people. This theory overlooks the fact that every dime spent hiring, training and paying any employee is totally tax-deductible --- including their benefits and the rent on their cubicles. Any company serious about cutting their tax bill can hire some people and start a new division, or develop a new product --- all the costs of which are tax deductible.
There are several reasons why Corporate America is sitting on all that cash, but fear of having to pay taxes on building the business to earn more profit is not one of them. Regardless of who gets elected, that cash will be there for a long time, and meanwhile whoever wins will be borrowing at record low rates to stimulate the economy through public spending --- tomorrow’s only other game in town aside from higher taxes on the wealthy.
If it’s any consolation to retirement savers, those companies hoarding cash offer more solid investments for those of us depending to a greater extent on dividends to grow portfolios or generate income in the absence of traditional alternatives. There’s something to be said for companies that aren’t “growth junkies,” and that goes for economies as well.